Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus taught the Lord’s prayer “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Many of Jesus’ parables were about forgiveness. He was greatly criticised for mixing with sinners, but said “those who are not sick do not need a doctor” and added “I came to call sinners”. At the Last Supper Jesus foretold his sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and Christians have always seen his death on the Cross and rising to new life as a victory over sin.
Forgiveness is a two way process, which is best described as reconciliation. It has four stages: contrition (being truly sorry); confession (admitting faults); absolution (being forgiven); and satisfaction or penance (putting things right). These four stages can be found in many circumstances in life. They are also found in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook, or getting away with it. It is a healing of a hurt between two people, or between the Christian and God.
Sin is any action or omission which is against God’s will. It is doing the wrong thing. We know that everyone does something wrong at some time, often not on purpose. We also find that there is evil in the world around us. Yet at other times sin can be avoided, though we might do something wrong on purpose.
The Church explains this situation in this way. God wanted the world to be perfect, but from the very earliest time there has been a tendency for people to sin. This is called Original Sin and everyone is born into it. Original sin is washed away in baptism, though it still has effects. When we do something wrong, that is called actual (or personal) sin. But we know that some sins are more serious than others, so the Church says that some actual sins are mortal (or deadly) sins, while others are less serious, called venial sins. A mortal sin has to be (1) a serious matter, committed with (2) full understanding and (3) full consent. If any of these conditions is not present (e.g. not serious, not understanding it was wrong, or not fully agreeing to the action) then it is a venial sin. Most sins are venial.
Venial sins are forgiven by God in prayer or by receiving holy communion. Mortal sins must be brought to confession.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as the Sacrament of Penance or Confession. It is usually celebrated in a small room. The penitent (the person making their confession) may kneel behind a screen or sit on a chair opposite the priest. In confession the penitent confesses to God in the presence of the priest and the priest gives God’s forgiveness. For this reaon confession is absolutely confidential. The priest cannot tell anyone what is said, even if a serious crime has been committed.
The Order of the Sacrament
The Sacrament follows this order:
- The greeting. The priest welcomes the penitent
- Use of scripture. A reading is sometimes used to tell of God’s mercy
- Confession of sin. The priest may also give advice to the penitent.
- A suitable penance is given. This act makes up for the sin. It is usually a prayer.
- A prayer of pardon (Act of contrition)
- Absolution. The prayer for forgiveness
- Prayer of praise and final blessing.
In danger of death, the ceremony can be shortened.
During Advent and Lent, the parish has a Penitential Service with confessions available.
Confession is available after the 10:00 Mass on Saturday until 11:30 and before the 18:30 Mass on Saturday between 17:30 and 18:00 or by private arrangement with one of the priests.